Harrison McGahey is determined to seize his chance at Sheffield United after ending 10 months of frustration.
The 20-year-old centre-back arrived at Bramall Lane from Blackpool in the summer of 2014 as a raw teenager.
Tagged as “one for the future” by then Blades chief Nigel Clough – after impressing for Blackpool in the Championship – McGahey quickly became a first-team regular following the departure of Harry Maguire to Hull City.
He featured over 20 times before the Boxing Day loss at Port Vale in 2014. This was to be McGahey’s final league appearance for nearly 10 months, for despite playing in the FA Cup draw at Preston on January 24, his next Blades start in League One came last Saturday in the 1-1 draw at Oldham Athletic.
He did enough to impress United manager Nigel Adkins, and kept his starting place for Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Fleetwood Town.
Buoyed by his side’s clean sheet, McGahey hopes he can retain the shirt in United’s defence, starting with today’s visit of Millwall.
“It’s brilliant to be back. To actually be back playing, and winning, brilliant,” said McGahey, who ended last season on loan at Tranmere Rovers.
“It’s been very tough not being in the side. But you just have to keep yourself going, train well, and hope the gaffer gives you a chance.
“I am glad he did, as I took it, and feel as if I am playing well.
“Hopefully, he will pick me again for Saturday. If not, I will just keep working away; it’s a long season, with many games, and will just carry on with what I am doing.”
McGahey was keen to stay and fight for his place at United this season rather than head out on loan again.
But he was restricted to just three starts in the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy before replacing Jay McEveley – who is out with a broken toe – at half-time in the win over Rochdale earlier this month.
Since then he has impressed in back-to-back appearances and believes his patience has finally been rewarded.
“My last league start was December last season,” McGahey told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s been a long time.
“I have had to just keep working away, and being patient.
“The new gaffer has come in, likes what I am doing, and has given me a chance. I am just enjoying everything about it (the club).
“I went out on loan last season at Tranmere, but it didn’t really work out. I was on the bench a couple of times, but never got a start.
“I have just worked hard this season and finally got my chance.
“I wanted to fight for my place this season. I have done and have been given a chance and I hope I can keep that position now.”
The Blades sit just four points off the top two, and an automatic promotion spot, after an impressive 3-0 win over Fleetwood.
In spite of a hectic month which sees United squeeze in seven matches in October, McGahey is just keeping his focus on the next game. He said: “The 3-0 wins are always good – keeping a clean sheet and the lads scoring three goals was brilliant.
“We just need another win on Saturday and see where we go after that. We just need to concentrate on the next match.”
Blades’ chief Adkins is excited to be working with talented youngsters like McGahey, Kieran Wallace and Che Evans. “Harrison is a young player and we’re teaching him the different things you need to become a really strong professional,” said Adkins.
“He’s got good size, good pace and the more he plays the better he’s going to get. He’s played the last two games and he’s done ever so well. You need opportunities, those are the building blocks.
“Kieran Wallace has been outstanding. Him, Harrison and Che, they are young players and we’re trying to get that balance right between experience and youth.
“Kieran has come in and gone from strength to strength. He put in three crosses against Oldham and we should have scored from all of them. He put in two against Fleetwood and we scored from both. Arguably their best attacking player, Bobby Grant, had to go off because he was tenacious against him.”
Adkins has a good record of bringing youngsters through, with the likes of Luke Shaw at Southampton, and that is clear to see at Bramall Lane.
“We’re helping them develop which is important,” he said. “It’s a big thing for us, as you’ll have seen, over the years. We also place a big emphasis on the importance of fitness.
“They’ll be in and they’ll be out – that’s what happens with young players – but we have high hopes for them.
“Che and Kieran were playing for Ilkeston last season so well done to the club for bringing them in. You want young and hungry players who are willing to learn. We allow them to make mistakes so long as it’s not the same ones.
“I like to think with the coaches we’ve got here, Andy and Dean, they’ll develop and be nurtured.
“Sometimes you’ve got to drop them out because it might not be the right thing for them and their development.
“But we’ve had young players in the past who have gone on to do great things.”
One player at the opposite end of the scale is 32-year-old Dean Hammond, the Leicester City midfielder who joined on loan on Tuesday in time to make his debut against Fleetwood.
“Dean will only get better and sharper with games, but we’re delighted to have him on board,” said Adkins.
“He’ll take time to adjust and get used to how we want to play and how his team-mates function round him. But we know everything about Dean Hammond; he has led a team from this division to promotion, he is a real team player, he is robust and has plied his trade in the top flight.”